“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; on the other hand, she who lets habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction.” “If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right doing, habits of wrong thinking and wrong doing fix themselves on their own accord.” ~Charlotte Mason
We all come into homeschooling bringing our own personality…our beliefs of what school should be like and how children learn best…and of course, these little ones in which God assigns for us to teach. We find immediately that homeschooling is so much more than just teaching subjects. It requires so much more of us! As I look back at the over the past years of homeschooling, I find that a large majority of my efforts have not changed much since we began that spring of 1991. I am still battling the to-do’s of homemaking, the pull of all the extras out of my home, and even more so, the formation of habit.
The formation of habit is central to what we do in our homeschooling. It is so central that Charlotte Mason, an educator from the late 1800’s, wrote the largest portion of her 6 volumes on home education on the formation of habit rather than the teaching of lessons. She said often that Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, and a Life. Yes, she felt that discipline in the home was one-third of what made a complete education!
So many mothers seek for curriculum or schedules to bring structure, order, and even education to the home. Structure, order and education all come from the formation of habit. Formation of habit is not available from any curriculum or any planner or any schedule. Rather, good habits are formed as real education occurs in our home. We have many areas of habit formation that the parent must consider in the education of the child. Consideration must be given to establishing good habits in each area of the child’s being…their intellect, their physical life, their religious life, their character, and their will. Yes, a true education affects all areas of the child’s life!
Habits of the Intellectual Life…
Most often, we think of their intellectual life as we think of homeschooling. We want for our children to be trained in attentiveness, obedience, the act of knowing, fit and ready expression, right thinking, right judging, accuracy, excellence, the good life. However, we seldom realize the great importance of ideas to the intellectual life. You see every habit in the child first comes by ideas. Miss Mason shares in her book Parents and Children the following… “Every habit has its beginning. The beginning is the idea which comes with a stir and takes possession of us.” The question is where do they get such ideas? How do we influence their intellectual life with ideas?
First, ideas are chiefly passed from person to person. It may be by the means of a relationship, or a great book, or something that someone may create (clothes, art, music, poetry, and literature…). You probably remember many instances that you were inspired to greatness by a story-or sadly were influenced to compromise your morals by a song or relationship.
We influence the intellectual life of our children as we carefully moderate the ideas in which they come in contact with. It may be guarding the relationships that they develop. It may be in eliminating activities, which do not support a home-centered lifestyle. It may be selecting appropriate literature or other influences. Our jobs as parents are eased, as we are selective about the food we select for the minds of our children. We want for the children to love learning, so we are careful to present them with ideas in the form of great literature, beautiful poetry, fine art, sensational music. We give them time to develop relationships with what they are learning whether it is a person from their biographies…or seeing a need to learn to write so that they can produce a product of worth to themselves and others.
Secondly, we find that our choices as parents will influence the ideas that our children internalize about education. I remember growing up in the public schools with the thought that education was someone teaching us in a classroom. I could not see all of life as educational. I could not fit church into my box of “what learning should be” so you can imagine the difficulty with changing my ideas and thus, habits once we began to homeschool. Our children may have never been inside the walls of a school, but they have ideas about learning which influence the way that they learn! We can influence their ideas of what education is by the food we give for their minds, the activities we allow them to participate in, the friends that we allow to influence their lives, and our own philosophy of education. These will make all the difference in the development of their intellectual habits!
Finally, we influence the ideas that our children have about the intellectual life by the lessons that we serve before them. Lessons are a means whereby we may establish habit effectively. The children learn by lessons whether the effort to give their attention is necessary or not, whether their minds and intelligence are respected or not, whether we care more for the test scores or for them and their calling in life, whether it pays to have initiative or whether it pays to sit, soak, and sour. As we train our children in intellectual habits, we will find that learning is really more natural than the models that were set before us in governmental and private schools. We will find the children become self-educated at early ages on a path that is totally individual for them! We will find that our children will be children of purpose!
The habits of the physical life are interwoven in all areas of life. A person is judged by their neatness, the order in their life and personal belongings, and their standard of excellence. The habits of instilled in their lessons and spirit influence their physical habits. Because of this, children should be able to express their good character through their physical lessons. It may be to demonstrate attentiveness through listening carefully to their read aloud and then physically place their “re-telling” on paper. It may be to demonstrate their habit of excellence by habitually setting forth to do their copywork without reminder and doing so with precision, accuracy, and perfect execution. It may be to demonstrate their orderliness by helping to keep the home nice, neat, and orderly.
These habits are essential for the home to function optimally. The outward fruits from a lack of training make life tedious for the mother. A messy home, constant supervision of the children, inattentiveness of the children to their lessons all require much more stress than taking time to lay down the lines of good habit. The fruits of an orderly, neat, well-functioning home are definitely worth the effort!
Each and every day in our home begins with quiet times. Each member of our family is required to spend their time in Bible study, prayer, and Bible memorization. This was not always so. For many years, I had to establish these habits of the religious life by time spent every morning in Quiet Time WITH the children. It did not take long until I saw Matthew begin to have his own quiet time. I share this because the most crucial habits to instill in our children are those that bring them closer to the Lord.
Habits such as thought of God, reverent attitudes, sense of duty, regular devotions, reading the Bible, praise, prayer, Sabbath keeping only come from the consistent teaching and the model of the parents. The responsibility lies with the parent to instill these habits from an early age. These habits cannot be left for chance without leaving our children ill equipped to know and follow God.
Habits of Character…
Religious habits are empty and vain if we are not diligent to instill in our children the habits of character that are so necessary for the godly, well-educated child. Character used to be essential. In our society, we often ignore the character of the child and focus on the intellectual attainments of the child. Charlotte Mason shared in her book Parents and Children the following insight,
“Disposition, intellect, genius, come pretty much by nature; but character is an achievement, the one practical achievement possible to us for ourselves and for our children; and all real advance in family or individual is along the lines of character. Our great people are great simply by reason of their force of character…let this be borne in mind, whatever ugly quality disfigures the child, he is but as a garden overgrown with weeds; the more prolific the weeds, the more fertile the soul; he has within him every possibility of beauty of life and character. Get rid of the weeds and foster the flowers.”
For every bad habit, there is an opposite good habit. We all desire the wonderful character habits of candor, fortitude, temperance, patience, meekness, courage, generosity, personal service to God, relationship with God, gentleness, kindness…but these character qualities come to be only with care of the parent. Charlotte Mason shared that in order to eliminate bad character and develop the fine character qualities, the parent had to have special treatment as follows…
“The child may be cured in a month if the mother will set herself to the task with both hands and of set purpose; at any rate, the cure may be well begun, and that is half done…Let the month of treatment be a deliciously happy month to him, he living all the time in the sunshine of his mother’s smile. Let him not be left to himself to meditate or carry out ugly pranks. Let him feel himself always under a watchful, loving, and approving, eye. Keep him happily occupied, well amused. All this to break the old custom which is assuredly broken when a certain length of time goes by without its repetition. But one habit drives out another. Lay new lines in the old place. Open avenues of kindness for him. Let him enjoy daily, hourly the pleasure of pleasing. Get him into the way of making little plots for the pleasure of the rest-a plaything of his contriving, a dish of strawberries of his gathering, shadow rabbits to amuse the baby; take him on kind errands to poor neighbors, carrying and giving of his own. For a whole month the child’s whole heart is flowing out in deeds and schemes and thoughts of lovingkindness, and the ingenuity which spent itself in malicious tricks becomes an acquisition to his family when his devices are benevolent.”
If you find a weed in your child’s character, replace it with a flower! Choke out the weeds/defects in character with the graces of fine character!
Habits of the Will…
All of the above is of no real use until we deal with the final area of establishing habit–that of the will. The will shapes the destiny of the person. The will determines the consistency of action of the individual, the heart behind what is done or said or believed or accepted, and the final acceptance of your authority as the parent and ultimately God’s authority as Supreme Ruler in that child’s life. It is by the will that the child can “turn his thoughts to the things he wants to think of-his lessons, his prayers, his work, and away from things he should not think of.” (Charlotte Mason in Home Education) It is by the will that the child learns to manage himself with self-government, controlling himself, compelling himself, and overcoming temptations.
The will of the child is very tender. The habits of the will are just as tender to instill. In the area of the will, the wise mother can strengthen her child, thus having fruit in all areas of habit. She strengthens the will with several tools–habits of the will. One such habit is giving the child a sense of conquest over his own inclinations. She can invite the child to cooperate and praise him as he experiences little successes!.She can teach him the habit of compelling himself. Charlotte Mason called this habit the highest accomplishment of life. It is certainly so. As he heartily intends and purposes to do something he is bidden to do, he can use his own will to compel himself. This habit in motion is as exhilarating as seeing a child walk on his own, but more so because we know that as the child learns to compel himself to do good or to choose not to do bad, he is able to become self-governed for life. Another habit to instill is that of completion–succeeding at what they set forth to do or finishing what is started. This habit is one that influences every other area of habit!.It influences who the child becomes.
The last habit of the will is that of letting God teach the child through his conscience. My key verse for homeschooling is 1 Timothy 1:5, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” This verse sums up all of the emphasis of good habit. Without the formation of good habits, the goal of our instruction can never be attained. Our children would never will to do that which is good from pure hearts because they would not have a love for good. They would never learn to be sincere in their faith because they would develop the habit of self-centeredness and selfishness. Their faith would be in self. They would never have a good conscience that only comes from total fellowship with God through His Holy Spirit. Our goal is but this one thing to instill habit in our children so that they may have love from pure hearts…have a good conscience…and have a sincere faith. What an awesome goal–the formation of habit. Habit reaps a character. Character reaps a life.
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